Like many other Saudis who left the country during the worst of the summer heat, I chose a destination that was not too far away. It is a favorite of both old and young as well as of singles and families. I did not know when I got there that various bits of Saudi Arabia would be waiting for me when I arrived.
I soon dubbed Beirut “Jeddah 2” — not because it is on the sea but because of all the Saudis there in the summer, you’d think you were in Jeddah instead of Lebanon. For some reason, particularly this summer, Saudi tourists chose Beirut over other destinations such as Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco or Turkey. Even though there were Saudis traveling to those countries, their numbers were considerably down according to travel agents.
Unfortunately, when we Saudis travel, we take our bad habits with us. Evenings in downtown Beirut with tourists sitting in groups, sipping drinks and smoking hubbly-bubblies turned out to be another Jeddah-style Corniche extravaganza.
I could not believe what I was seeing. As Saudi and other Gulf families stood on the sidewalk to wait for their cars to be brought from the nearby parking lots, dozens of my countrymen in cars with Saudi license plates drove past blasting loud music and making loud, rude comments. It was a sight I was all too familiar with from the Kingdom but one I was not happy to see in Beirut.
Sadly, inappropriate behavior from those in passing cars was not the only bad habit I saw that my countrymen were guilty of. The usual disrespect for the law and for those of other races and nationalities is also taken with most of us when we travel.
One example took place in what is almost unknown in Saudi Arabia — a queue. As I was standing patiently in one before boarding my flight back to Riyadh, a Saudi with five green passports belonging to his family passed me and two others by and went straight to the head of the queue. “Excuse me, sir. As you can see, there is a line here,” I said loudly in Arabic. Only then did he seem to realize that there were other people there and that he was not going to get away with what is probably his usual inconsiderate behavior. He went to one side then and waited his turn.
The same old story of feeling superior to others was played out once again, this time on non-Saudi soil. Most of the people in the line were workers from Asian countries returning to Riyadh after vacation. This man, with his green passports, thought that because he was a Saudi, he would automatically take first place in the line.
When it comes to behavior in hotels, there is often a problem. I noticed that in a hotel restaurant at an open buffet, we Saudis tend to behave as if we were starving. We fill our plates with three times the amount of food that any one person could eat. Do we think the buffet is going to disappear? I observed one family whose members kept returning to the buffet, filling their plates as full as possible with all kinds of food. When they finally left the dining room, over half the food was still on the plates and scattered over the table. What greed and unnecessary waste!
Last of all, when my fellow Saudis want to take their families abroad, they look for the most hidden and distant corner table. They are so afraid that someone might look at their wives or daughters — or perhaps their wives and daughters might look at someone else! If they are forced to sit as far away as possible, why travel in the first place? Wouldn’t it be more convenient and far less expensive to stay at home? After all, they are only looking for the Bulgari, Burberry or Louis Vuitton outlets and they are in both Jeddah and Riyadh.